FROM BROADWAY TO BELVEDERE

In 1962, architect Norman Gilroy rejected the notion that San Francisco’s historic buildings should be sacrificed in the name of progress. 1818 Broadway, a mansion that Willis Polk designed for Dr. Francis Moffitt in 1914, was slated to be razed for an apartment complex. It’s owners agreed to sell Gilroy the mansion if he moved it off the site.

  1818 Broadway shown in its original location.

1818 Broadway shown in its original location.

After several months of negotiating for financing and for building transportation permits at both ends of the move, Moffitt Mansion was ready to journey to the property of some partners on Belvedere Island, which was 15 land and sea miles away across the bay. Using a chainsaw, workers literally sliced the 15-room mansion into two neat sections, each 30 feet high, 35 by 40 feet on plan, and weighing 85-100 tons.

"If you hear this particular whistle, don’t think: just run, the foreman warned. As the first house section moved onto the steep Franklin Street hill, its full weight suddenly canted onto its front dolly. With a scream like a train whistle, the impact tore a one inch steel box beam in two, knocking a two-foot hole in the street. Movers scattered like rabbits."

Chainsaw

This half of a house is ready to go! Ayen Movers claims this was the “largest and most complicated moving job ever attempted in San Francisco” It required 30-foot-vertical street clearances, navigating a 2.5 mile route through a congested area, and an elevation drop of 185 feet. Completed at night to avoid disrupting traffic, the move required lowering transit and power lines at several major street intersections to allow the sections to pass.

  Here, workers jack the house up at 3:30am.

Here, workers jack the house up at 3:30am.

It required 30-foot-vertical street clearances, navigating a 2.5 mile route through a congested area, and an elevation drop of 185 feet.

“If you hear this particular whistle, don’t think: just run, the foreman warned. As the first house section moved onto the steep Franklin Street hill, its full weight suddenly canted onto its front dolly. With a scream like a train whistle, the impact tore a one inch steel box beam in two, knocking a two-foot hole in the street. Movers scattered like rabbits."

Time spent waiting for the right weather conditions was not wasted. This photograph shows the two sections being weather proofed for their sea journey. Meanwhile, temporary tracks and a ramp were being built to slide the building halves over the seawall onto the barge for transport.

  A close-up shot of the track to the barge shows the amount of work and detail that went into building the ramp to slide the buildings from land to barge. A similar ramp for unloading was later built on the other side of the bay. With one of the halves of the Moffitt Mansion in the distance, it is easy to appreciate the immense size and scope of the project.

A close-up shot of the track to the barge shows the amount of work and detail that went into building the ramp to slide the buildings from land to barge. A similar ramp for unloading was later built on the other side of the bay. With one of the halves of the Moffitt Mansion in the distance, it is easy to appreciate the immense size and scope of the project.

  In this shot, the house and barge with its tug captained by Master Mariner John Seaborne, is leaving the San Francisco shoreline for Belvedere Island. The trip will take one full day battling wind and tides in the Golden Gate all the way. The follow up positioning and siting work was left to Ayen house movers, and contractors were hired to restore and reconstruct the residence and landscape grounds.

In this shot, the house and barge with its tug captained by Master Mariner John Seaborne, is leaving the San Francisco shoreline for Belvedere Island. The trip will take one full day battling wind and tides in the Golden Gate all the way. The follow up positioning and siting work was left to Ayen house movers, and contractors were hired to restore and reconstruct the residence and landscape grounds.

West Shore Blvd

On West Shore Road, the sections were lowered into place on newly poured concrete foundations. The view shows the house after the halves were rejoined. Amazingly, the gap between the sections was exactly the width of the first chainsaw cut made on Broadway. The original Polk drawings, found walled up in the house, guided the restoration, and damaged pilasters and moldings were replaced with plaster casts and high-quality modern-day hand carving.

The Moffitt Mansion move is testimony to how an idealistic gamble by a single architect inspired others to preserve important buildings for posterity. Without Norman Gilroy’s vision and determination to convince city officials that historic houses could still be moved and preserved, the later rescue and restoration of many Painted Lady Victorians in the Western Addition might never have happened.

  This interior shot captures just one room of the residence’s restored glory.

This interior shot captures just one room of the residence’s restored glory.

  8 West Shore Blvd today!

8 West Shore Blvd today!